|Michael Watson , Girl Scouts of the USA|
Girl Scouts of the USA
After years climbing the corporate ladder and volunteering in his spare time, Michael decided to give back full time and now manages human resources for the Girls Scouts.
When Michael Watson told colleagues he was going to work for the Girl Scouts of the USA, some responded, “What? Are you going to sell cookies?”
In fact, Watson, then a human resources executive at IBM, had been offered the top H.R. job at the Girl Scouts, where he is now responsible for finding the right people for 432 headquarters jobs and for helping Girl Scout affiliates fill another 10,000 positions around the country. The paid staff works with 900,000 volunteers to serve more than 2.6 million girls.
But Watson understood his colleagues’ confusion. His own response when he had first been approached by an executive recruiter was, “The Girl Scouts has jobs?” he remembered. “I had never thought about a nonprofit career in my entire life. I didn’t know anyone who worked for one.”
Watson, now in his 50s, had been in training his whole life for his current role in helping to develop young leaders. Raised by his grandparents in a tough neighborhood in New Brunswick, N.J., he defied the odds to get accepted at Yale University. “All of us were poor,” he says. “I was the first in my family to go to college. To come from that background and be able to go to college — I was appreciative of the opportunities.”
After 15 years in corporate life, he decided it was time for a break. On his sabbatical, he volunteered at two elementary schools in New Brunswick, helping in classrooms and talking with kids about their career options. “That was one of the most fulfilling things I was able to do, because I was able to do it full time,” he says.
After his sabbatical, Watson rejoined IBM. “I was very happy at IBM, and I was going to retire at IBM,” he says. Then he got that call from the headhunter.
“I had to make a decision,” he says. “Do I want to squeeze in my volunteer work into my spare time and have a smaller impact? Or do I want to join an organization and work full time to develop future leaders? I thought, ‘If I want to really make a difference, I have to do this.’”
He said his base pay at Girl Scouts is comparable to his IBM salary, and that the chance to do work that’s meaningful to him compensates for the loss of stock options and other corporate benefits.
“I feel good about what I do,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed every corporate job I’ve had, but there’s a level of fulfillment in this job that’s very different.”
Read Michael Watson’s profile
Read his advice on finding a nonprofit career in tough economic times